“Prostitution Pledge” is Forced Speech: A Promising Win in the Fight for Rights-based U.S. Foreign Aid

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2011 — HIV advocates are greeting with enthusiasm the latest development in the fight to ensure that U.S. foreign aid reaches those most affected by the epidemic.  A United States appellate court yesterday upheld a lower court’s injunction against the enforcement of the so-called prostitution pledge, which refers to the requirement that organizations receiving funds to fight the spread of HIV abroad must adopt a policy “explicitly opposing prostitution.” The court found that by compelling the plaintiffs, all organizations and associations of organizations engaged in such work, to adopt and publicly declare the government’s viewpoint, the requirement as imposed was an unconstitutional infringement of the plaintiffs’ right to free speech.

“What is important about this decision is that we have one of the highest courts in the United States recognizing that this restriction is motivated by the government’s own viewpoint on sex work and does not take into account the very real international movement to recognize sex work and sex worker’s rights as key to the fight against HIV,” states Beri Hull, Global Advocacy Officer for the International Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS (ICW Global), a global network of women who are living with HIV. “For too long, the U.S. government has kept a lid on the debate and forced organizations to work under the false assumption that ‘prostitution’ is a black and white issue. This ignores the realities facing women around the world.”

Both the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have explicitly recognized that reductions of penalties for sex work is one of the best practices for HIV prevention where such penalties are interfering with outreach efforts, a fact which the court references. “We know that criminalization and the denunciation of sex work hampers efforts to reach women with vital HIV prevention and treatment services,” states Beri Hull, “as women living with HIV, we also know too well how stigma kills. Thirty years into the AIDS epidemic, it is time to focus on the interventions that work and listen to the people living on the frontlines of this disease. This decision will allow these organizations to fully engage with women engaged in sex work to promote their rights and their health.”

The International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW Global) is the only global network by, for, and of women living with HIV. Founded in 1992, we now have more than 15,000 members in 120 countries. We work to increase the visibility of women living with HIV within the global response to HIV and AIDS and to ensure that we are equal partners in all decisions which impact our lives. ICW Global envisions a world where all women living with HIV know and exercise their rights to health, including sexual and reproductive health, and dignity. Nothing for us without us!